Let’s talk about trolls |
Gurmehar Kaur, who hit the headlines after saying Pakistan didn’t kill her father war did, recounts her brush with trolls.
(Illustration: Rahul Krishnan )
Let me tell you a little about myself. I don’t owe you any explanation nor do I have to explain myself. If I choose to, it is only in the hope that it will sensitise you on how you can hurt complete strangers who may not be as strong as me. You tried to use me – a young adult – to pursue your agendas. You ganged up on me but you could not cow me down; you did not make me run scared.
You have actually opened the windows of my mind. I was a happy student, content with my 30 followers on Twitter, till you thought I was easy game. I did not know you, Kiren Rijiju, till I Googled you and was surprised to find a minister trying to bully me. You have an amazing number of followers. You even got actor Randeep Hooda — sigh, like most young girls, I too had a crush on him — to go on an emoji overdrive. Why? Because I said, Pakistan didn’t kill my father, war did
For Rijiju, Hooda and the army of anonymous trolls who don’t dare reveal their identities, I’d say it again: I want peace with Pakistan. I don’t want more children to be orphaned. I know what death means. I had to learn to live with it early, too early.
I was only two years old. I have a searing memory of my father lying in a coffin with a bandage on his chest. I asked my mother why dad was sleeping. Is it a dream, I asked? She nodded in an effort to save me from pain. How does a mother even explain the meaning of death to a two-year-old? For years, I thought a coffin was a dream. No, I’m not seeking sympathy.
I battled my demons with my mother’s help. She put me in a tennis academy and at age 13, I was a part of the Punjab state team. I wanted to represent the country. There was honour attached to it. It also helped me in my identity as my father’s daughter.
Losing my father – a proud army officer — was a deeply personal tragedy. You don’t know what I went through. I grew up with pain. It has become fashionable to use the word ‘martyr.’ So many of you say, “Ask a family who has lost a soldier if they really want peace with Pakistan.’’ It has become a common refrain now because it helps the ‘nationalistic’ narrative. Ask me and I’ll say emphatically: I’ve lived through the pain. I don’t want soldiers martyred so that you can prove your nationalism. Don’t use their dead bodies to propagate your faux-nationalism. It is easy to tweet about nationalism and anti-nationalism.
A report on cyber bullying released in November 2016 found online threats to be a serious issue in the country. The report, based on a survey of 500 social media users, is authored by Japleen Pasricha, Founder, Feminism In India. Some key findings:
of respondents who had experienced harassment online took no action at all
said they had intentionally reduced their online presence after sufferning harassment
of those who had experienced online abuse found it extremely upsetting
reported that it led to mental health issues such as depression, stress and insomnia
said they were not aware of laws to protect them from online harassment
of those who reported the matter to police termed the response as ‘not at all helpful’
When so many of you roped in my father to spread your hatred, it bothered me; it disturbed me. The abuse brought everything back to me in a flash but then I composed myself. I’m smart. I’m cocky. I’m surrounded by women (my mother and sister, Bani, who was three months old when dad died) who take pride in having an opinion. I’ve only lived with women. Feminism wasn’t just an idea — it was there in everyday life. Equality isn’t just a notion, we practise it. I know the difference between freedom of expression and bullying.
Real bullets killed my father. Your hate bullets are deepening my resolve. Your idea of nationalism is bogus. My India-Pakistan peace video came out a year ago and though the video got noticed, nobody called me an anti-national then. Am I anti-national now because I questioned your student’s body?
Being an athlete, I’ve built stamina and control over my emotions. I have blocked the hate in my head. I will speak up when my fellow-students return to college with lathi marks on their arms and legs. I will speak up each time I feel strongly on an issue.
Personalities like cricketer Virender Sehwag and Hooda should remember that no one deserves to go through what I did. I don’t need them — or anyone else — to tell me how my father would be thinking of me. I don’t even agree with what Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid said about the hanging of Parliament convict Afzal Guru, so don’t even try and define me.
I am now an anti-troll soldier and I’ll keep fighting. I know right from wrong.
And, yes, I’m making a list of people and websites that hurled abuse at me and am exploring my legal options. In the end, thank you for helping me add followers. From 30, they’ve shot up to over 55,000.
I’ll make sure I speak my mind.
Gurmehar is a Delhi University student who was threatened with rape and death after she took a stand against students’ body, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. This is part of HT’s new campaign, Let’s Talk About Trolls, which focuses sharp attention on online abuse and bullying.